What kind of designer are you?

Can a designer teach her/himself needed skills? If so, how? This was an interesting question posed on the forum today;  it speaks to the subject of what kind of designer you are (I started writing this a couple of years ago but never published it). It is too simplistic to say people can teach themselves (they obviously can) successfully and the question is too open ended because there are many types of designers. Depending on the kind of designer you are is what will determine what you need to learn and how to go about doing it. Caveat: There are other lists of designer types (I like the one Danielle wrote). Since I write mostly about designers starting clothing lines, my list describes those on an entrepreneurial path.

Without further ado, here are most of the designer types I can identify -feel free to add to it:

  • The artist
  • The artisan/engineer/technician
  • The mogul
  • The accountant
  • The project manager

There is no worse or better kind of designer to be because most people are or should be, a combination of each. Anyone who falls into a set category exclusively, probably isn’t healthy because balance is required. That said, the project manager and the accountant are most successful. Doomed to failure -please stop sending me hate mail, I’m tired of it and it’s not working anyway- is the artist and the mogul. Below is an abbreviated description of the archetypes. Once we’ve discussed these, we can go on to discuss paths to preparation for each (the next post).

The artist: The “artiste” described here is the sum of the worst. Too often, especially these days, “artist” refers to someone who -for all intents and purposes- becomes overwhelmed with the practicalities of launching a line and will adopt a deprecatory posture toward planning, scheduling and or numbers, claiming or thinking it will scare all of the art away. If you can describe yourself pragmatically (do read that!) then it’ll be easier to find people who can help you bring fruition to your vision.

The artisan (or engineer-technician): Design and construction is a craft; the designer is a craftsman who executes all the prototyping and or products he or she sells. A designer who understands technicals can be a dream come true for service providers -if the designer gets that far. The pitfall is having to know it all before launch and as one never can, they never launch. If one does launch, they have problems scaling. The key to turning that around is realizing you can’t know it all and setting standards (the engineer in you will love writing work instructions).

The mogul: A lost cause [nod to Rocio who identified them]. Moguls won’t be reading this (they don’t think they need to), I only explain it so you don’t worry that another will think you’re one yourself. The mogul loves to talk about their team when the “company” consists of one person and they’re obviously pre-launch (perennially pre-launch) with a bevy of talent (see the about page on their web site). They hide that nobody is getting paid because it is all so exciting and truly the best thing evah (done ad nauseum but this time with SEO sugar on top).  Tip offs: exhaustive celeb name dropping, claiming to know buyers for X, lots of legal, no direction (and I do mean no direction; not soft, not hard -nothing but a logo) and they typically want providers and suppliers to front them everything from introductions to capital and of course product because all the mogul has is a “brand”. Ranchers have those too but they paid less for it and get more out of it -maybe as much as fifty cents a pound at auction.

The accountant: They’re all about the numbers. At their worst, it’s their numbers. Meaning, it pays the bills, meets payroll and keeps the lights on but there is no passion. At their best, they understand why toddler sand box play suits retailing at $36 can’t have lined ruffles on the pinafores and they won’t give one a lot of grief about it. Yay!

The project manager: Probably my favorite archetype provided they’re balanced. Good ones usually are. The typical head designer in a large organization is a project manager. It’s a fine act to juggle all the competing demands of “artistes”, technicians, accountants and service providers (who themselves run a gamut of archetypes) to keep the operation on the rails and the books in the black. At their worst, a project manager is one of those 4 hour work week types who think they can outsource it all, letting the little people get it done.

So, which archetype is closest to your heart? In a future post, I’ll outline the kind of educational focus and preparation that given profiles should pursue to become better balanced. The truth of it is, a successful designer entrepreneur needs to have some measure of all of these profiles.

So I’ll go first. I’m easily an artisan (technician-engineer). This is bad (in my case) for making a go of launching a line because technicians have other priorities -such as perfection- which means never getting off the ground. The driving motivation is all about execution. Once one skill is mastered, there’s yet another and so it goes. Being an artisan is not a bad thing at all but technicians rarely scale.  All that said, you need people like this in your operation. They can teach you all kinds of stuff and you never have to worry about them competing with you.

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